On Saturday the 25 of July at 00:01, gyms and leisure centres across England reopened their doors as the country continues to “ease” out of lockdown. While many gyms exercised caution and decided to not open immediately, others actively welcomed their members back from midnight. Many have questioned the safety of opening what is essentially a room filled with panting humans during the pandemic of a virus spread by respiratory droplets. However, gyms themselves are quick to reassure users of new COVID safety measures now in place, from temperature checks and free hand sanitiser to social distancing and rules against vigorous exhaling. And after months of making do with YouTube tutorials and weights made out of baked bean tins, you can see why some of the swoler among us would be tempted to return.
Still, you have to be pretty committed to your #gains to head to the weights room the first day back. We visited a gym in London on the morning of its reopening, and spoke to a few gym goers about why they were so eager to return.
I've been coming to the gym for many years. I visit before work almost every shift, so four or five times a week. Being in lockdown without the gym to go to has been tough, it's such a part of my life. For some people, I guess it's something they do now and again to keep their health in check, but for me it's very much essential more or less day-to-day, which is why I have missed it so much in lockdown. I’m here today because I couldn’t wait to be back.
While I welcome the physical benefits of exercise, I mainly use the gym for mental health reasons – it really helps. Just having an hour a day where I'm away from the world is so important. I'm not staring at messages on my phone, thinking about work, or being distracted by something at home. I'm simply concentrating on pushing my body as far it'll go. I arrive and leave feeling healthy and motivated, it's an important start to my day.
I was most excited to get back into using the machinery. I am sore now, and was wobbling down the stairs a little at the end, but I mainly just feel so good to be back.
I wasn't actually planning on coming back today, I was a bit suspicious about how safe it would be. However, you can check on their app to see how busy it is, and while capacity is 172, it was at about 40 so I figured I might as well, as I have missed being here.
I've missed having a specific environment for my exercise. During the lockdown I've been exercising from home, but it's been really annoying because everything I do: work, exercise, relaxing, sleeping, eating, is all happening at home. It's a bit cabin-feverish. I’ve learned having a distinct environment for exercise is important to me.
It’s great to be able to access so much equipment again, there isn't a lot you can do at home and what you can do quickly gets repetitive. Of course, if I had a home gym with all of the equipment, I wouldn't go to a public one ever. But as I don’t, I do use the gym a few times a week. It’ll be nice to do something different.
I've missed the whole pump, the whole feeling of it. I've missed the community, training with my friends, congratulating and motivating each other, and being able to make real progress.
It's been difficult at home because I have a pretty limited set of weights, and for months on end you can't be using the same weight for every exercise, you don’t improve. I got really bored after two weeks because my weights became a bit too manageable, there was no challenge to have. And there’s less exercises you can do. Of course, it helps with mental health and wellbeing too. I've missed how good it feels in every way.
VICE: And how was the session?
Surprisingly, it's pretty well organised in there – the machines are spread two metres apart and everyone is training within those sections. It's also not that busy, I was hoping for more people because as I said, the community element is really important to me, but it was great to be back today. I've been looking forward to this for months, I'm ready to be getting back to normal a little. The gym is a big step toward that for me.
A big part of what I have missed is the autonomy to be able to do something. It's nice to be able to go into a building that isn't a shop, and it's nice to be able to do something which feels productive outside of my own home. I used to go to the gym three or four times a week before lockdown, so I was quite gutted when things had to close down.
I was furloughed about four months ago so I lost pretty much all sense of structure, and foreseeably I won’t be able to go into the office. I also live in a shared flat and there's minimal outdoor space in London, so it's been really difficult to maintain a routine with exercise and beyond. So I'm really looking forward to being able to fit my structure around going to the gym instead. That's why I was here on the first day, there's not much to do and the gym was somewhere I went regularly. It's nice to be able to regularly go somewhere I enjoy again.
I love the energy of seeing so many people around me all working on health. It makes me feel less lonely, the combination of a busy place that is full of strangers is a good energy. I mainly come to the gym to relieve stress from work. I'm back in work now, and since being back I've really missed having somewhere to relieve the tension of my job. I usually do a two-hour session three days a week, I spend a lot of time here. Also it's good to keep my body looking and feeling fit and healthy.
While here I don’t feel the distractions that I do at home, I’m just able to completely focus on my body and exercise. I don’t think about anything else. It’s so good to be back.
VICE: I’ve caught you on your way out, so how was it?
It was good. It was a bit quiet which is a shame, I guess, but nice to be back.
VICE: Did it feel safe?
Yes, not a 100-percent safe, maybe 70-percent. It's cleaner than it used to be and you can finally sanitise everything.
*Interviews have been edited for clarity.